Before music became his life Mott The Hoople’s legendary frontman had no career ambitions. „I did everything, Goods in, Goods out, lathe-turner, milkman…“ Ian Hunter told me in a pre-show interview. Bonn Harmonie was the place to see what he did best though – sing Rock ‘n’ Roll. Seventy eight years young, there’s still an energy about Hunter’s performance, and the voice, thankfully, is as gloriously, raspingly, eloquent as ever.
Outside the hall before the show I meet a man who’s still recovering from a late night in Düsseldorf seeing the Rolling Stones for 500 Euros. An Ian Hunter lyric (from ‘Saturday Gig’) flickers into my mind: “Tickets for the fairytale were twelve and six a time” and now, to update the next line, it seems the kids pay five hundred quid cos they need it just the same – it’s all a game. A grown-up game. Except you can see and hear great Rock music for a fraction of that, and the man coming out of the rehearsal room just now is proof of that.
His trademark blonde curly hair is whiter than it was on Top of the Pops but the big dark glasses are an instant give-away and before he can find the way to the dressing room Ian Hunter is surrounded by a small sea of photo/camera wielding fans. “Okay, just the one autograph” becomes two, then three… and “Just the one photo” becomes two, then three… Once a rock star always a rock star…
He’s still very serious about his music making too. A listen to Hunter’s recent discs ‘When I’m President’ and ‘Fingers Crossed’ will tell you that. The lyrics are as finely honed as ever, the voice still THE voice, and the band is top notch. Only a fool would pass up a show like this – so if you missed out, you missed out big time tonight.
A full house in front of the stage and a fine band on it. How could the music be otherwise? James Mastro is a top New York guitarist. On drums is Steve Holley of Wings, Elton John and Joe Cocker fame. Mark Bosch has the weight of Mick Ronson on his shoulders as Hunter’s lead guitarist but comes out with five stars – not surprising that Garland Jeffreys also has a place for him. On bass is Paul Page, formerly with John Cale and Bo Diddley. Keyboards are covered by Andy Burton who you may have seen on tour with John Mayer. A band like this doesn’t get together for just anybody.
They need about three notes of 1971’s ‘Moon Upstairs’ to get their sound together and after that are as flawless as you would want a Rock Roll Band to be. ‘Once bitten twice shy’ is early in the set and an indicator of how much high quality Rock Hunter has in his musical archive. It’s a mixed set of old and new which in itself emphasizes that Ian Hunter is still delivering musically. new numbers like ‘When I’m President’, ‘Fingers Crossed’ and the beautiful ode to David Bowie ‘Dandy’ (the latter two delivered by Hunter on electric piano) hold their own admirably against classics like 1976’s ‘All American Alien Boy’ and 1974’s ‘Roll Away the Stone’.
That Hunter’s voice was as beguiling as ever was proved best when he took over electric piano chores. ‘Irene Wilde’ got a rare outing “Because you’re a great audience” and is still one of my favorite story songs with it’s tale of being stood up for a date only to later realize it was better that way: “If she hadn’t stood me up, I’d still be there”. With a family in a home, instead of with a rock band on the road? Maybe it’s more than just a nod to an old classic when Hunter closes the show with a chorus of ‘Goodnight Irene’. Let’s not read to much into this folks, it is as they say, only rock n roll – and Ian Hunter shows he is no mean dude in that department on the keys with bursts of Jerry Lee Lewis energy during a rocking ‘All the way from Memphis’.
The piano section is a good chance to give aching legs a rest of course but the legs are still up for rocking out again for the rest of the show. One of my favurite Hunter numbers gets a work-out, the elegantly titled ‘Bastard’ and of course no one will want to leave without hearing the song Bowie gifted to Mott when they were on the verge of quitting ‘All the young dudes’. Thank David for that, otherwise maybe Ian Hunter would have been delivering milk bottles instead of great Rock n Roll records.
The last word belongs to Ian Hunter and it’s delivered eloquently as an encore on the piano:
‘Easy come, easy go
Just another rock ‘n’ roll show
Hope you had a great night
When you get home and climb into bed
Just remember what I said
And laugh because it’s only life.
‘Just’ another rock ‘n’ roll show? I think not. Thanks Ian, and yes, I had a great night.